31-32 QUADERNS DEL CAC. Technological and audiovisual convergence

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1 31-32 QUADERNS DEL CAC Technological and audiovisual convergence 2009 July June 2009 ISSN: /

2 QUADERNS DEL CAC 31-32, July June 2009 Quaderns del CAC is a journal dedicated to analyze the big topics about audiovisual communication policies, and in general, the contemporary audiovisual culture. Edited by the Consell Audiovisual de Catalunya, the journal intends to be a meeting point to discuss about the audiovisual from a Catalan perspective with international vocation. Editorial Board: Santiago Ramentol (editor), Dolors Comas d Argemir, Rafael Jorba, Elisenda Malaret, Victòria Camps, Joan Manuel Tresserras Editors: Josep Gifreu (director), Maria Corominas (executive director), Sylvia Montilla (general coordinator), Carles Llorens (book review editor), Núria Fernández and Pablo Santcovsky (book review, journal review, website review), Carme Duran (secretary) Advisory Board: Salvador Alsius (Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona), Monica Ariño (Ofcom, Londres), Lluís Bonet (Universitat de Barcelona), Milly Buonanno (Università degli Studi di Roma "La Sapienza"), Enrique Bustamante (Universidad Complutense de Madrid), Marc Carrillo (Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona), Divina Frau-Meigs (Université Paris 3-Sorbonne), Ángel García Castillejo (Comisión del Mercado de las Telecomunicaciones), Margarita Ledo (Universidade de Santiago de Compostela), Joan Majó (Cercle per al Coneixement), Jesús Martín Barbero (Bogotà), Andrea Millwood Hargrave (International Institute of Communications, Oxford University), Miquel de Moragas (Universitat Autonòma de Barcelona), Nancy Morris (Temple University, Filadèlfia), Alessandro Pace (Università degli Studi di Roma "La Sapienza"), Jordi Pericot (Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona), Francisco Pinto Balsemão (Consell Europeu d Editors), Emili Prado (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona), Monroe E. Price (University of Pennsylvania), Philip Schlesinger (Glasgow University), Miquel Tresserras (Universitat Ramon Llull, Barcelona), Gloria Tristani (Spiegel & McDiarmid LLP, Washington), Imma Tubella (Universitat Oberta de Catalunya), Manuel Ángel Vázquez Medel (Universidad de Sevilla), George Yúdice (University of Miami), Ramón Zallo (Universidad del País Vasco/Euskal Herriko Unibertsitatea). Consell de l Audiovisual de Catalunya President: Ramon Font Bové Vice president: Domènec Sesmilo i Rius Secretary: Santiago Ramentol i Massana Members of the Council: Dolors Comas d Argemir i Cendra, Rafael Jorba i Castellví, Elisenda Malaret i Garcia, Josep Micaló i Aliu, Esteve Orriols i Sendra, Josep Pont i Sans, Fernando Rodríguez Madero General Secretary: Joan Barata i Mir Translation: Tracy Byrne Page Layout: Sylvia Montilla, Davínia Ligero and Tatiana Medina Printed by: Esmon Publicitat, SA Legal Diposit Book: B ISSN: / Entença, Barcelona Tel Fax

3 ISSN: / QUADERNS DEL CAC Contents Introduction 3 Monographic Technological and audiovisual convergence 5 JAVIER ECHEVERRÍA The two main processes of technological convergence 5 ENRIC PLAZA Overcoming Babel: social mediation and intelligent systems in discovering, filtering, accrediting and personalising digital content 11 SONIA LIVINGSTONE, UWE HASEBRINK, CARMELO GARITONANDIA AND MAIALEU GARMENDIA Comparing online risks faced by European children: Reflections on youthful internet use in Britain, Germany and Spain 95 NÚRIA ALMIRON AND JOSEP MANUEL JARQUE Myth, digitalism and technological convergence: hegemonic discourses and political economics 105 Observatori 113 JOSEP RAMON FERRER Technological convergence: a state of the art on the issue 15 JOAN MAJÓ Future trends in audiovisuals 23 EMILI PRADO The challenges of digital convergence for television 29 J. IGNASI RIBAS Integrating media within interactive discourse: the case of cultural disseminatio 41 ANNA TOUS The emergence of new imagery in quality television fiction 113 LUISA MARTÍNEZ GARCÍA Television fiction on TV3 and Catalan cultural identity: case study of the situation comedy Plats bruts 121 CARLES PONT Analysis of information sources and respect for professional ethics in crisis situations: the media treatment of Barcelona's Carmel case 127 HUGO PARDO, JOEL BRANDT AND JUAN PABLO PUERTA Mobile Web 2.0. The new mobile communication industry 53 ÁNGEL GARCÍA CASTILLEJO Convergence and general audiovisual legislation in Spain 61 PERE VILA Content convergence 69 JOSÉ FERNÁNDEZ CAVIA, ASSUMPCIÓ HUERTAS AND MÒNIKA JIMÉNEZ The effectiveness of product placement on children: an experiment 135 CRISTINA CAMBRA, NÚRIA SILVESTRE AND AURORA LEAL Analysis of comprehension by deaf pupils of captioned television documents and criteria for improvement 141 DAVID SANCHA The convergence of newsrooms in the era of the open garden 75 PERE MASIP AND JOSEP LLUÍS MICÓ The polyvalent journalist within the framework of business convergence 83 GENÍS ROCA Media convergence and the battle for the audience 91 Agenda 145 Critical book review 145 Books review 157 Journals review 161 Websites review 165 Manuscript submissions guidelines 167 Book reviews guidelines 168 1

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5 ISSN: / QUADERNS DEL CAC Introduction The era of technological convergence has begun. In all areas of life and society the convergence of communication services and platforms is increasingly a reality. The definition of convergence proposed by the British organisation Ofcom can act as a guide to our proposals. Ofcom sees convergence as "the ability of consumers to obtain multiple services on a single platform or device or obtain any given service on multiple platforms or devices". This definition clearly distinguishes between services and platforms, as well as focusing attention on the change in consumer initiative and satisfaction. But although consumers are the ultimate beneficiary of the services of the new online digital era, convergence phenomena have a growing impact on all sectors, activities and players involved: companies, operators, regulatory authorities, media, professional routines, distribution circuits, training, etc. Given the importance of this technological and cultural transformation, Quaderns del CAC has decided to dedicate a double issue to the issue of Technological and audiovisual convergence in order to debate and evaluate the specific impact of convergence on the world of the media. This issue number therefore provides a broad look at the state of affairs regarding the trends, perspectives, opportunities and also risks of the new era brought about by convergence. The different texts have been ordered from the most general to the most specific. The first block contains articles related to the transformations resulting from the processes of technological convergence, continuing with more specific contributions on areas or aspects of audiovisual communication that are particularly affected by these processes. Javier Echeverría starts off this double issue ("The two main processes of technological convergence") with a general essay on the two broad processes of technological convergence currently underway, namely that of ICTs (information and communication technologies) and the NBIC system (Nano-Bio-Info-Cogno). Enric Plaza provides an analysis of the new intelligent systems of social mediation, going from a content-based model of content distribution to a network-based model ("Overcoming Babel: social mediation and intelligent systems in discovering, filtering, accrediting and personalising digital content"). Josep Ramon Ferrer provides an overview ("Technological convergence: a state of the art on the issue") of convergence infrastructures and networks, as well as the perspectives for audiovisual consumption. Joan Majó ("Future trends in audiovisuals") concentrates on detecting the main developments involved in the evolution of audiovisuals, focusing on three areas: technologies, consumption habits and economic and political pressures. Emili Prado ("The challenges of digital convergence for television") systematically analyses the most relevant transformations of media digitalisation and its three basic processes: the production of content, transmission and reception. J.Ignasi Ribas argues the intrinsic properties of interactive discourse ("Integrating media within interactive discourse: the case of cultural dissemination") and highlights the unlimited capacity for integrating media, as well as the difficulties in incorporating new applications. Hugo Pardo, Joel Brandt and Juan Pablo Puerta investigate the new culture of mobility ("Mobile Web 2.0. The new mobile communication industry") and provide a theoretical and technical panorama of the evolution of mobile telephony towards collaborative internet applications. Ángel García Castillejo provides an overall legal review of audiovisuals in Spain ("Convergence and general audiovisual legislation in Spain") given the convergence between the telecom and media sectors, and argues that an audiovisual authority is required within the Telecommunications Market Commission (CMT). Pere Vila closely examines ("Content convergence") the adaptation of an audiovisual public corporation to the new demands of convergence, especially concerning content production policy. David Sancha explores the impact of convergence on traditional journalism ("The convergence of newsrooms in the era of the open garden"), which has been forced to redefine new strategies of technological development and to consider integrated newsrooms and polyvalent journalists. Pere Masip and Josep Lluís Micó precisely evaluate the figure of the polyvalent journalist ("The polyvalent journalist within the framework of business convergence") based on the different experiences and perceptions of professionals themselves. Genís Roca tackles the challenges posed by media convergence from the market point of view ("Media convergence and the battle for the audience") and notes strategies to increase audience loyalty, with multiple platforms on different media. Sonia Livingstone, Uwe Hasebrink, Carmelo Garitaonandia and Maialen Garmendia present the initial findings from an extensive comparative study on the levels of risk in internet use for children ("Comparing online risks faced by (3-4) 3

6 Presentació European children: Reflections on youthful internet use in Britain, Germany and Spain" with proposals for lines of research and public policies. And Núria Almiron and Josep Manuel Jarque close the issue with a critical look at the dominant "digitalist discourse" ("Myth, digitalism and technological convergence: hegemonic discourses and political economics"). Finally, in addition to the specific theme, this double issue also includes the usual sections. In the Observatori we include five notable contributions from recent Catalan research: "The emergence of new imagery in quality television fiction", by Anna Tous; "Television fiction on TV3 and Catalan cultural identity: case study of the situation comedy Plats bruts", by Luisa Martínez García; "Analysis of information sources and respect for professional ethics in crisis situations: the media treatment of Barcelona's Carmel case", by Carles Pont; "The effectiveness of product placement on children: an experiment", by José Fernández Cavia, Assumpció Huertas and Mònika Jiménez, and "Analysis of comprehension by deaf pupils of captioned television documents and criteria for improvement", by Cristina Cambra, Núria Silvestre and Aurora Leal. Josep Gifreu Director 4

7 ISSN: / QUADERNS DEL CAC The two main processes of technological convergence 1 JAVIER ECHEVERRÍA Professor of research at the Institute of Philosophy, CSIC Ikerbasque Researcher in the Department of Sociology 2, University of the Basque Country / Abstract From a systemic point of view, technological convergence can be considered a consequence of the progressive formation of technological systems. Furthermore, it could also be compared with the composition of individual and collective human actions, which broaden the respective scope of capabilities and activities (A. Sen). This paper applies these three philosophical hypotheses: on the one hand to convergence between several information and communication technologies (ICTs) and, on the other, to NBIC (nano-bio-info-cogno) convergence, in both cases focusing on the social appropriation of these convergent technologies and on the role of users in processes of socio-technological appropriation. Consequently, technological convergence depends on social convergence among users of different technological systems. Key words Philosophy of technology, Converging Technologies, social appropriation. Resum Des d'un punt de vista sistèmic, la convergència tecnològica es pot considerar una conseqüència de la formació progressiva de sistemes tecnològics. A més, també es podria comparar amb la composició d'accions humanes, individuals i col lectives, que expandeixen els corresponents espais de capacitats i acompliments (A. Sen). Aquest article aplica aquestes tres hipòtesis filosòfiques a la convergència entre algunes tecnologies de la informació i la comunicació, d'una banda, i a la convergència NBIC (Nano-Bio-Info-Cogno), de l'altra. En ambdós casos se subratlla la importància de l'apropiació social d'aquestes tecnologies convergents i del paper dels usuaris en els esmentats processos d'apropiació sociotecnològica. Per tant, la convergència tecnològica depèn de la convergència social entre usuaris de diferents sistemes tecnològics. Paraules clau Filosofia de la tecnologia, tecnologies convergents, apropiació social. 1. Technological systems and human actions Human techniques have very different origins and are usually studied separately, according to the atomist paradigm that has predominated for decades in the studies of science and technology. However, a systemic approach has been adopted more recently and this article is based within such a context. In his book Tecnología: un enfoque filosófico (1989), Quintanilla established the foundations of the systemic conception of technologies, which states that they shape technological systems rather than working in isolation. Throughout technology's history, examples abound of techniques that have continued to come together and link up, therefore resulting in mixed artefacts. The cart is a good example of this because it combines the wheel, the box or body of the vehicle and the action of the animal, but so are a ploughman's tools, the objects needed to make a stable, the tools for basic carpentry or mining, or the equipment of a fishing boat. These technological items, each with their own particular job, unite to form technical systems in which technologies from different origins combine. Some of these technical systems have been around for a long time and have characterised entire cultures, helping to ensure survival in certain environments. However, many inventions have come about because ideas or technical resources have been transferred from one system to another (Edgerton 2007, p. 270). For example, electricity proves that, once something is invented and becomes established as a technological system (electric power stations, transport systems, accumulators, voltage regulators, power plugs, connections, etc.), many innovations will be generated as a result, from the light bulb to an oven's electrical element, electrical engines and trolley buses and trams and other methods of transport that rely on electrical energy. Combining has always been a rich source of invention, as Leibniz realised, and the history of technology is no exception. A second idea proposed by Quintanilla is also of great importance, because it forms the basis of this integration of different tools into long-lasting and stable technological systems. According to him, technologies are "systems of human actions intentionally orientated towards transforming concrete objects (5-10) 5

8 The two main processes of technological convergence J. ECHEVERRÍA in order to efficiently achieve valid results." 2 Therefore, it is not tools that are important but what human beings do with them that matters. Once technologies have been defined in this way, it is very easy to explain why they converge and how they shape technological systems. Because they are human actions, insofar as such actions can be combined and integrated into one activity, either individual or collective, then the corresponding technologies will converge into technological systems. As a single person or various people coordinate their own actions and compose complex actions (cooperation, collaboration), the tools that facilitate these actions will gradually become integrated as mixed complex objects and, ultimately, technological systems. As a second hypothesis, we can say that technological convergence occurs because human actions can be combined and give rise to complex actions. In particular, human actions generate collective actions, insofar as they synchronise their individual actions in such a way that a joint action results, something that has often occurred since prehistoric times (hunting cultures). There are technological systems for individual use (a carpenter), but also for collective use (a team or a group of workers). Some of these collective systems have significantly influenced the make-up of specific methods of production, distribution, supply, usage or storage of different types of goods and, therefore, the shaping of stable economic, cultural and social systems. Even opponents of technological determinism must acknowledge that technological systems form an important part of many other systems, including scientific, artistic, literary and educational, as well as military, legal and administrative systems, which also function with the help of specific technological systems. A laboratory, an orchestra, a book, a classroom, a bomber aircraft, a courtroom and an office can be seen and analysed by how their technological systems operate in the aforementioned spaces, which require specific tools and skills, both on an individual basis (know-how) as well as knowing how to integrate them into a joint action or project. We can therefore say, rephrasing Quintanilla, that the composition of human action forms the basis of various processes of technological convergence, which end up generating technological systems. We can also add a third to these two hypotheses (the system approach and the conception of technologies as human action). For this, we can look to Amartya Sen's idea of wealth and poverty relating to areas of capabilities and functionings. Reinterpreting this author's theses, it can be seen that technologies broaden human beings' capabilities and, depending on the extent to which these capabilities are possessed and how they are used, they also increase and enrich people's ability to function. In simple terms, many technologies have been designed precisely to increase and improve human abilities; for example, their ability to move about (cart, canoe, bicycle, motorbike, car, lorry, train, aeroplane, boat, etc.), or perceive (glasses, hearing aids, microscopes, telescopes, etc.). Whoever has a car or uses buses or the underground can work at dis- tance from their home, as millions of people do every day in large cities. These technologies, which are in part industrial and in part social (organisation of the service, signposting, etc.) increase people's ability to move about and, ultimately, other basic ways of avoiding poverty, as they can earn a living through paid work. Urban and industrial culture is based on a range of technical systems that the majority of city-dwellers use on a daily basis: for example, the transport subsystem. This does not just mean cars, trains, roads or rail networks. What's important are the human actions that can be carried out thanks to this multiplicity of intricately linked technical systems and, particularly, the increase and improvement of human abilities that, as a whole, make it possible. This hypothesis works not only for individual abilities and activities but also for collective ones. This justifies both the usefulness and the importance of technological convergence which, in the first instance, consists of the linking-up of two or more different objects in such a way that the increases brought by each to the area of capabilities add together. When a chain, a pedal and a wheel are joined together, a new technological system emerges based on the convergence and integration of earlier technologies. Once other technical problems have been resolved (balance, direction, braking, etc.), convergence leads to a breakthrough, the bicycle, which afterwards continues to improve thanks to accumulative improvements (tyres, lights, mudguards, etc.). The convergence and integration of several previously existing technologies into a new technological system is one of the main sources of technological innovation, and that is because such combining enables new compositions of human capacity. Technological convergence deals with systems, actions and human capabilities, both individually and collectively. Certain great social changes have been accompanied by parallel technological changes. Technology is never the cause of social change in terms of objects and tools, but when these are part of systems brought about by both individual and collective human action, it is easier to understand why technological changes are of considerable importance in many processes of social change. 2. Convergence of information and communication technologies Today, information and communication technologies constitute one of the main examples of technological convergence that has brought about profound social change, normally summarised as the emergence of a new type of society, the informational society (Castells ). The informational society is often identified with the internet but, in our opinion, it is vital to distinguish between them. Firstly, because the internet is a remote space made up of interconnecting networks and computers and is not a society. Secondly, because the ICT (information and communication 6

9 J. ECHEVERRÍA The two main processes of technological convergence technology) technological system is much more extensive than the internet. Television, radio and digital sound (MP3, MP4, electronic music), electronic money, videogames, multimedia technology, digitalised databases and metabases, virtual reality objects, telecommunication towers and satellites and, of course, remote networks that are integrated within and connected to the internet, go to make up a new technological system, the ICT system. This has radically transformed the production, distribution, supply, use and storage of information, facilitating the emergence of a new form of society, the information society, in which information flows become a new kind of wealth. The ICT technological system is not only the internet, although the web is deployed throughout the world. It goes without saying that the network per se is based on the functioning of a highly complex technological system that interconnects computers and flows of information worldwide, and, subsequently, individuals, institutions and different social and economic agents. Both the internet and the ICT system have enormously increased human capability in the fields of information and communication, and their success stems from this, both individually and collectively. The different technologies integrated into this system have very different origins and functions. What is important is that they have all gradually become compatible with each other over the last few decades. Nowadays, it is possible to watch television on a computer screen or on a mobile telephone, to edit texts and digital photographs, carry out bank transactions through an electronic cashpoint or on a home computer, play videogames, visit virtual museums, attend concerts, chat and access the great depositories of scientific and humanistic knowledge of our age (magazines, digital libraries, etc.). The origins of all these technologies are very different. Many had a military beginning, which has not stopped them from evolving and becoming useful in many areas of civil life. The creation of symbolic technologies (HTML, URL codes, Unicode, jpg, compression, zip, etc.) has played a vital role in these technologies becoming mutually compatible in spite of their heterogeneous origins and designs. Both the internet and the ICT system are the result of many technological convergence processes. The emergence of an information society has therefore been accompanied by a complex technological convergence that has managed to integrate and make compatible the most relevant information and communication technologies, such as film, photography, radio, television, computing and telecommunications. Each of these was an economic sector in itself and had significant presence in society. Consequently, convergence has not only affected the design of devices but has also involved a process of convergence among many different economic and social agents that have now placed themselves in the same social space, an electronic space or third environment (Echeverría 1999). The media, for example, strenuously resisted the internet in the last decade of the 20th century, giving the web negative publicity. Nowadays, they almost all have their own digital versions and, in particular, many different forms of journalism have arisen (blogs) maintained by individuals and small groups of communicologists. ICT technological convergence has therefore not only generated a technological system but also a new social space; this is our basic thesis. In the electronic field, human capacity for action has grown thanks to the fact that long-distance and internet actions are possible, something that earlier technological systems were not capable of achieving. In short, ICT convergence has all the characteristics we discussed in the previous section: on the one hand, it generates a new technological system, and on the other it broadens the space of human capabilities, on both an individual and collective level, and, finally, it generates a new social space in which no less than a new kind of society emerges and develops. Technological convergence is in direct correlation with a social convergence that has been occurring all over the world and has ended up consolidating a new space for individual and collective relationships. This process is entirely comprehensible if we see technologies as systems of human action, in this case as new capabilities for individual and collection action regarding information and communication. When the United Nations organised the World Summit on the Information Society (Geneva 2003 and Tunisia 2005) and managed not only to get all the countries of the world to participate but also to agree on an extensive joint declaration and action plan, technological convergence was defined as a process of social convergence of international importance but of slow and difficult development, even though it continues to occur. ICT convergence has many different aspects: it is clearly technological but is also economic, social, cultural, legal (it is necessary to make internet legislation compatible) and political. 3. Technological convergence and civil society As an instrument is used over and over, we can verify whether it's suitable for the function for which it was intended and think of improvements. Many experienced users of certain tools have come up with different ways to ensure these tools fulfil their function more quickly, with greater accuracy or efficiency, with greater ease or at a lower cost. Using technological objects means that users not only evaluate the advantages provided by these instruments but also the potential inconveniences and faults (bugs). Some of these users, the 'experts', come up with possible improvements and, in some cases, design them, implement them and put them to the test. This shows how important users are in processes of technical innovation, particularly expert users (leading users). According to Von Hippel (Democratizing Innovation, 2005), and as a fourth hypothesis, we can say that technological innovation is not just generated by factories and R&D departments. Suppliers, distributors and users are also sources of innovation and the latter in particular generate a very important type of social innovation, 'distributed 7

10 The two main processes of technological convergence J. ECHEVERRÍA innovation'. In other words, once technological convergence has been accepted by society, it is users who will improve the system and generate different forms of social innovation (e.g. SMS messages, Linux, Wikipedia, social networks, etc.). Since technologies are systems of human action and not just objects, cooperation and interaction between people lead to new actions and therefore new technological instruments to carry them out. Society not only receives and accepts (or rejects) the innovations proposed by firms and other R&D actors, it also generates innovations itself. The small or large improvements introduced are tested by many users and innovations spread very quickly because users themselves make them fashionable. As a result of these human processes of technological convergence, new tools and new practices ultimately appear, some of which become standards in the corresponding social or professional sector. For an innovation to be accepted socially and become a instrument of current use, it must be widely used, so that its usage becomes generalised and the corresponding object becomes a social norm. We can therefore say that users themselves give rise to technological convergence. Moreover, users of technology that has been previously tested through habitual use can be sources of technological innovation. This has been the case with the internet, as Manuel Castells has often highlighted, and it continues to be the case at the end of the first decade of the 21st century, as Web 1.0 gives way to Web 2.0 (Benkler 2006). The latter is characterised by a strong impulse called bottom/up, since users contribute the content and generate particularly active social networks. We won't insist on this point, preferring instead to merely point it out, but it could be said that ICT convergence is entering a new phase in which users are the ones who promote convergence. This involves an important step towards the democratisation of the information society, although a lot still remains to be done, which can be summarised in one: it is necessary to build a "telepolis" in electronic space, affirming the primacy of res publica (public property) in remote networks as a whole. Web 2.0 users have started generating authentic civil spaces where a lot of people converge on the internet to meet one another and this is the beginning of constructing a global remote city. As systems of governance arise in these public networking spaces, the "telepolis" will gradually adapt. 4. Nano-bio-info-cogno technological convergence Inherent to the start of the 21st century is a new process of technological convergence that primarily affects nanotechnologies (nano), biotechnologies (bio), information technologies (info) and cognitive sciences (cogno). One of the novelties of this new integration of technological systems concerns the scale at which the aforementioned convergence can be achieved: in a nanocosmos, that is to say, at a nanometric scale. The technological system we hope to develop, namely the NBIC (nano-bio-info-cogno) system, will not only be microcosmic but also nanocosmic and, therefore, imperceptible to view. The nano-objects/tools that go to make up the NBIC system cannot be manipulated by just any human being, since it acts at a scale of the world that, albeit real, only very recently became accessible to human perception. And this is due to the invention of tunnelling and atomic force microscopes, which have improved our perceptive capacity and enabled the representation of phenomena taking place at a nano level, as well as being able to handle small particles, altering the structure of atoms, molecules, DNA and cells by engineering materials in the nanocosmos. These two microscopes, and other complementary technologies, have made it possible to manipulate material at both an atomic and molecular level, something which no other technological system had managed. Nanotechnology has therefore broadened human capabilities, expanding them from the usual mesocosmos, where we normally perceive and act, to this nanocosmos we could not perceive before and now we can, and where we could not intervene before and now we can. NBIC convergence supposes a new example of expansion in the scope of human capabilities. Needless to say that nanotechnologies offer huge possibilities for innovation since different types of matter, both alive and inert, can be artificially reinvented on this scale. Technologies don't just try to understand the world (observing, analysing and explaining it, and predicting phenomena and events...), as has always been the objective of modern science. They also try to transform it. The North American NBIC programme clearly states this in the title: Converging Technologies for Improving Human Performance. 3 What we want to understand is what the world is like at a nano level and, to do so, much basic research is required. That said, the ultimate aim is not knowledge but the improvement of human performance. "Converging technologies could produce enormous improvements in human abilities, such as social benefits, improving the nation's productivity and also the quality of life". 4 Therefore, supporters of NBIC convergence intend, right from the start, to increase human capabilities (e.g. perceptive, cognitive, communicative), as well as corporate productivity and competitiveness. The overall aim is to modify the atomic, molecular and cellular structure of various already inert or alive materials and generate nanoparticles and nanotools that carry out functions that can be biological (attacking the DNA of carcinogenic cells), informative (to store gigas of information on a nanochip) or cognitive (using nanosensors and nanotransmitters, without giving up on improving more complex cognitive abilities). For this, a lot of basic research is necessary, since the laws of quantum mechanics apply on a nano scale and the properties of nanomaterials and nanoparticles are therefore very different to those of their counterparts at a meso- and microcosmic level. Some of these properties can be beneficial for people, while others can be harmful. It is a matter of exploiting this knowledge that must be generated and produce technological breakthroughs and innovations. On our part, we can say that the society will 8

11 J. ECHEVERRÍA The two main processes of technological convergence always have the last word, either accepting or rejecting the innovations proposed. At the moment, there are signs of a lack of confidence and the first risks from NBIC convergence have been noted. In any case, and without exaggeration, nanotechnologies have allowed us to discover new dimensions of the material world, so that NBIC convergence will have a similar or greater importance than the aforementioned ICT convergence. Nanotechnologies allow us to modify the basic properties of matter (cohesion, weight, duration, electrical conductivity, light absorption, etc.). The way in which they converge with biotechnologies means that the structure and properties of cells and organisms are modified, with implications for medicine, pharmacology, genetics and life sciences in general. Nano-info convergence opens up the possibility of numerous innovations in the ICT sector: quantum chips, nanosensors, nanodetectors, etc. The programme's final objective, related to cognitive sciences, consists of no less than the conquest of the brain, by implementing, among others, perceptive, cognitive, communicative and mnemonic capabilities of the human brain. If it were possible to implement neurone capabilities by inserting nanodevices to stimulate them, the different abilities of the human brain would be modified and, hypothetically, improved. NBIC convergence is one of the great objectives of contemporary technoscience because, if it is accomplished, it will bring radical changes to the capabilities of human action, as well as new objects and tools resulting from such convergence. NBIC convergence from the US is particularly Faustian. The ideology of transhumanism can be found everywhere but we will analyse these aspects here. The technological convergence programmes that have been developed in different countries since 2001 have innovation as their general goal. The innovations promoted by the North American NBIC have governments as their ultimate goal (defence, administration), markets (efficiency, productivity), nation (worldwide leadership), society (improvement of different services) and people (better sensory and cognitive capabilities, direct communication between brains, increased life expectancy, treatment for physical and mental decline, etc.). It is not about investigating how the world is but rather transforming and improving it. On a global level, the NBIC programme has been designed to radically change markets and societies, introducing innovations that are extremely competitive and acceptable for all clients and consumers. Ultimately, the aim is to modify the habits and behaviours of individuals so that they incorporate the innovations generated by the different NBIC programmes into their daily lives. It is in this area that a new difference between science and technoscience lies. The latter surpasses the Baconian programme, which merely advocated the control and command of nature. Technoscience, however, is aimed at the transformation of people and society. That is why the relationships between technoscience and society are complex. Some technoscientific innovations are well received, others not. It is vital to identify, analyse, assess, prevent and manage risk in technoscientific policies. It is especially important to pay attention to users' criteria. Since they use NBIC technologies, much knowledge will be gained and social innovations will appear in the corresponding sector, as was the case with the ICT technological system. The European report on NBIC convergence (2004) also leans towards a deep social transformation, but of a different nature. It has been called "Converging technologies for the European Knowledge Society" 5 (CTEKS), already highlighting the main goal that must be attained to promote technological convergence: to contribute towards the construction of a European knowledge society that, in line with the strategy e-europe 2003, e-europe 2005 and i2010, converts the European Union into a worldwide leader of knowledge in 2010 (Lisbon Agenda 2000). Irrespective of the difference in their ultimate objectives, the EU and the US share this basic thesis: innovation is essential. In the document entitled: "Towards a European strategy for nanotechnologies" 6 it clearly states that "European excellence in nanosciences must finally be translated into commercially viable products and processes." 7 Despite innovation being the priority, the European documents, more than the North American ones, insist on the need to investigate the risks: "Nanotechnology must be developed in a safe and responsible manner. Ethical principles must be adhered to and potential health, safety or environmental risks scientifically studied, also in order to prepare for possible regulation. Societal impacts need to be examined and taken into account." 8 Many other countries are promoting similar initiatives: Japan, Korea, Taiwan, China, Russia, Australia, Canada, India, Israel, some Latin American countries, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, South Africa, Thailand, etc. Each country has its own strategies. The same can be said of the companies that fund research, development and innovation in the NBIC sector. Converging Technologies programmes not only try to revolutionise scientific and technological activity but also scientific policies and business and industrial activity. To carry out these programmes, a large dose of interdisciplinary work in the research teams, as well as the intervention of many other economic, political, social and legal agents, not forgetting the military, is necessary. The Nanotechnology National Initiative, approved by the US in 2000, had been requested by various US defence agencies that had been at the forefront of research, technological advances and innovation throughout the 20th century. In this case, technological convergence requires the integration of very different social and economic agents into a same technoscientific agenda, which is clearly defined in the US and EU's Converging Technologies programmes. 5. Conclusions The hypotheses we proposed at the beginning are valid for interpreting these two great processes of converging technologies that are already in full development: the ICT system, 9

12 The two main processes of technological convergence J. ECHEVERRÍA already consolidated, and the NBIC system, which has provided us with significant results but whose medium- and longterm future still remains to be seen. It is necessary to analyse each of these technological systems, the majority of which have appeared in converging processes and many of which have been promoted by the same users. It is also necessary to study the converging processes among technologies and existing systems, as will be the case with ICT (YouTube and digital television, for example), or what NBIC convergence will be like. From the above comments, although too brief and succinct in many cases, we may conclude that, in general, technological convergence always has other facets (e.g. social, economic, culture, of companies and institutions, of users, etc.), because technologies do not limit themselves to being merely tools and objects but also consist of systems of human action. Converging technology entails a convergence of human action and therefore a collaboration or cooperation between corresponding agents, be they individuals or collectives. Technologies are never separate from the societies that promote or use them. In fact, many of the changes, improvements and innovations of technological systems come from society itself, in particular from users. With ICT and NBIC technologies, what is important is the social appropriation of the aforementioned technologies, i.e. their incorporation into people's daily lives. When this happens, a technological system integrates into a culture and influences it, but without determining it at any point. Because they are systems of human action through which the aim is to achieve valuable results, technologies and their future depend on the value that human beings apply to these actions, both in carrying them out and also in assessing their results. Ultimately, the essence of the different converging technologies consists of a confluence of opposing values and, if necessary, the integration and generation of new value systems. Each technological system has an underlying system of human values, both individual and collective. Technologies are therefore social entities. In terms of social technologies and technosciences. Notes Bibliography BENKLER, Y. The Wealth of Networks. Yale: Yale University, CASTELLS, M. La era de la información. Madrid: Alianza, 3 vol., ECHEVERRÍA, J. Los Señores del Aire: Telépolis y el Tercer Entorno. Barcelona: Destino, ECHEVERRÍA, J. La revolución tecnocientífica. Madrid: Fondo de Cultura Económica, EDGERTON, D. The Shock of the Old: technology and global history since London: Profile Books, Translated into Spanish under the title Innovación y tradición. Historia de la tecnología moderna. Barcelona: Crítica, NORDMANN, A. (rel.) Report: Converging Technologies: Shaping the Future of European Societies. Brussels: European Communities, OLIVÉ, L. La ciencia y la tecnología en la sociedad del conocimiento. Mexico: Fondo de Cultura Económica (FCE), UNITED NATIONS ORGANISATION. Final report on the Geneva Phase of the World Summit of the Information Society. Geneva: Document WSIS-03/GENEVA/9(Rev.1)-S, 12 May QUINTANILLA, M. A. Tecnología: un enfoque filosófico. Madrid: Tecnos, ROCO, M. S.; BAINBRIDGE, W. S. (ed.). Societal Implications of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology. Arlington, Virginia: National Science Foundation (NSF), ROCO, M. S.; BAINBRIDGE, W. S. (ed.) Converging Technologies for Improving Human Performance; Nanotechnology, Biotechnology, Information Technology and Cognitive Science. Arlington, Virginia: National Science Foundation (NSF), This article has been produced within the framework of the research project HUM /FISO, funded by the Ministry of Education and Science in 2006, 2007 and Its final version was produced during a research internship at the Centre for Basque Studies of the University of Nevada, Reno (US). 2 Quintanilla, op. cit., p M. C. Roco and W. S. Bainbridge (ed.), M. C. Roco and W. S. Bainbridge, op. cit., p. IX. 5 A. Nordmann (coord.), Brussels, , COM(2004) 338 end. 7 Ibid., pàg Ibid. SEN, A. Desarrollo y libertad. Barcelona: Planeta, EUROPEAN UNION. i2010: A European Information Society for growth and employment, COM(2005) 229, VON HIPPEL, E. The Sources of Innovation. New York: Oxford University Press, Translated into Spanish under the title Usuarios y suministradores como fuentes de innovación. Madrid: COTEC, VON HIPPEL, E. Democratizing Innovation. Cambridge, MA:MIT Press,

13 ISSN: / QUADERNS DEL CAC Overcoming Babel: social mediation and intelligent systems in discovering, filtering, accrediting and personalising digital content ENRIC PLAZA Head of the Department of Learning Systems at the Artificial Intelligence Research Institute (IIIA-CSIC) Abstract The convergence of digital content is transforming the distribution model from the centralised distribution of content to a more symmetrical model of network communication. This transformation also affects the production of content, this now being within the scope of any citizen with a computer and internet connection. The so-called Babel objection criticises this democratising effect. In this article we analyse the different mediation processes that relate content with recipients that are present both in the centralised distribution model as well as in that of network communication. The aim of this article is to show that it is viable to develop the discovery, filtering, accreditation and personalisation processes of a network communication model where consumers are also contributors. Key words Artificial intelligence, personalisation, search, mediation. Resum La convergència de continguts digitals transforma el model distribució: d'un model de difusió centralitzat de continguts a un model de comunicació reticular, més simètric. Aquesta transformació també afecta l'elaboració de continguts, que és a l'abast de qualsevol ciutadà amb un ordinador i connexió a internet. L'anomenada objecció Babel critica aquest efecte democratitzador. En aquest article analitzem el diferents processos de mediació que relacionen els continguts amb els destinataris i que són presents tant en el model de difusió centralitzat com en el de comunicació reticular. L'objectiu de l'article és mostrar que és viable desenvolupar processos de descobriment, filtratge, acreditació i personalització en un model de comunicació reticular on els consumidors són també contribuïdors. Paraules clau Intel ligència artificial, personalització, cerca, mediació. Introduction The convergence of digital content is transforming the distribution model from centralised distribution of content (from few centres to many users) to a model of network communication (from many to many). This transformation also affects the production of content, this being within the scope of any citizen with a computer and internet connection. In principle, the network communication model is symmetrical, in the sense that any node can be both consumer and creator of content at the same time, be it data, information, knowledge or culture. This democratising effect has been criticised by the so-called Babel objection: if everyone can talk, no-one can listen because of the resulting cacophony (information overload). If the Babel objection is right, democratisation will fail and internet citizens will stop being active contributors and become passive consumers. However, if a schema can be organised that efficiently and easily relates content and its recipients, we will be able to overcome the Babel objection. In this article we analyse the different mediation processes that relate content with its recipients, i.e. discovering, filtering, accrediting and personalising. These processes are present both in the centralised distribution model as well as in that of network communication, the latter merely adding a quantitative difficulty in carrying out these processes. The aim of this article is to show that it is viable to carry out processes of discovery, filtering, accreditation and personalisation in a network communication model where the consumers are also contributors. In particular, we will analyse two basic elements: a) information content provided by contributors themselves on mediation processes, and b) the use of artificial intelligence techniques in handling large amounts of data in discovery, filtering, accreditation and personalisation processes. Network symmetry and ownership of the material means of production and distribution The transfer involved in any change in paradigm - currently the transformation from a distribution model (from few to many) to a network communication model (from many to many) leads to two kinds of opposing responses: the response given from (11-14) 11

14 Overcoming Babel: social mediation and intelligent systems E. PLAZA an apocalyptic perspective and that from an integrated perspective. Umberto Eco (1964) characterised these two opposing theses (apocalyptic and integrated) with regard to the mass media of the 1960s and today we can detect some similar responses. On the one hand, that of the apocalyptic/reactionary perspective, that sees only problems in the new paradigm of internet information: cacophony, information overload, lack of credibility, etc. On the other hand, that of the integrated/revolutionary perspective, that stresses only the positive possibilities: better access to information, democratisation of the information distribution process, more potential for criticism/monitoring actions of the groups established, ease of coordinating large numbers of people, etc. The answer is not the happy medium but accepting that there are both negative and positive aspects and analysing how we can help achieve these positive possibilities and with what mechanisms, and how we can do away with the negative effects. Technology is not neutral in this respect, nor is the legislation that limits its possible options: the mechanisms employed may destroy some of the positive possibilities or preserve some of the more negative effects. For this reason we must first analyse the effects of the technological change not only in the sense of society and customs but also in economic and productive terms. From the most abstract point of view, this change in paradigm gives rise to a medium more similar to the telephone network (where everyone can communicate with everyone) than to the model based on publishing firms/content providers. Symmetry is a characteristic of the network structure: all the nodes are equal members of the network, all receive and transmit content. This symmetry can also be found on the network of networks, the internet, but this is not enough to explain the change in paradigm. The second factor is the personal computer that, unlike the telephone, is a medium for creating, elaborating and producing content (be it data, information, knowledge or culture) and is particularly a highly decentralised medium of production, i.e. owned by individual citizens and not by companies or the state. It s the combination of the digital production medium (computers) and the digital distribution infrastructure (internet) within a context of decentralised ownership that transforms the political economy from an industrial information economy into a networked information economy (Benkler 2006). A historical example of economic change is the cost of creating newspapers at the start of the industrial economy era. According to Benkler (2006), starting up a new newspaper in the United States in initially cost 10,000 dollars (in today s terms), a cost that went up to 2.5 million dollars (in today s terms). This sharp change in costs wiped out an ecosystem of small newspapers with different kinds of organisation and funding (with a weekly circulation higher than Europe in a United States of only 17 million inhabitants). According to our experience, gained under an industrial information economy, it seems that the only two alternatives for content production are (large) market-based firms and state companies: it s difficult for us to imagine serious alternatives beyond these two models. In spite of this, the ownership and financial costs of producing and distributing content have fallen extraordinarily (computers plus internet connection). This is what Yochai Benkler (2006) calls social production, which is added to market- or state-based organisations. Consequently, the ecosystem of creating, elaborating and producing content we can expect in the near future will be much more decentralised in comparison with the industrial system. Discovering and filtering Finding new content has always been carried out formally with guides and catalogues but also informally by using social networks: a friend or acquaintance tells us that such and such a radio programme plays music we might like. The internet has added the proactive possibility for a person to use search engines (like Google) to find new content. It must be noted that the first proposal for discovering content was formal and developed by Yahoo, attempting to make a website guide/catalogue. This catalogue was carried out manually and was not scalable because of the large number of websites in existence. The alternative was to use web search engines, applications based on information recovery techniques adapted in order to analyse, index and recovery websites, e.g. Aliweb in 1993 and Altavista in Today Google is the most popular search engine but we must analyse the technological reason for its success: the analysis and use of user-provided content (UPC). The central idea to the PageRank algorism used by Google is based on an analysis of particular content provided by the user: hyperlinks that relate two websites. In effect, the user declares that (the content of) the page he or she is writing is related to (the content of) the pages it is linked to. PageRank analyses the network of relations provided by users as links to assign to each page P a specific degree of importance determined by (the importance of) the pages P 1... P n referring to page P. This algorism is based on previous work carried out in bibliometrics on citation analysis: the innovation of PageRank is that it focuses on the analysis and exploitation of a specific kind of UPC, hyperlinks, to filter or distinguish more important content from less important content. The techniques of artificial intelligence can improve discovering and filtering processes within the context of the so-called Semantic Web. The Semantic Web, proposed by Tim Berners- Lee, the creator of the first website, is based on the annotation of web content using ontological terms, so that the content produced by humans can be understood by automatic intelligent systems. However, this new web technology is sectorial : each sector requires its own ontology (a formal description of the meaning of the terms used in this sector). For example, content of a legal nature would have a legal ontology defining terms such as fraud, while content of a medical nature 12

15 E. PLAZA Overcoming Babel: social mediation and intelligent systems would need a medical ontology. With regard to musical multimedia content (<http://musicontology.com>) this is the most developed at present and the BBC has started to apply it to its website. Another way of improving discovery and filtering is to analyse the behaviour of user communities when they search and to learn to filter more intelligently, so that we can discover which content is really interesting for that community. University College Dublin is working on this area: instead of developing an ontology for each theme, the system learns by observing what user groups interested in football or photography or ipods do. The techniques employed are similar to those of recommendation systems, like the simple but well-known systems to recommend books on Amazon or music on AppleStore. Analysing the actions of users, when discovering and selecting what they are interested in, provides a much more personalised result for each user. Accrediting and personalising While discovering and filtering are mainly concerned with the relevance of certain content for the user, a second dimension that is also important is the credibility of the content and the reputation of its origin (or sources). Without doubt, the supposed lack of accreditation of content, in addition to the large amount of information, is one of the most important factors within the pessimistic opinion concerning the Babel hypothesis. This pessimism concerning the possibility of a decentralised, efficient mechanism to distribute content comes from the model established by the large mass media, where these big organisations consider it their role to classify content into hierarchies, for example which content is for the front page and which should have a small or zero space allotted to it. In this model, the large number of organisations provides both diversity of hierarchy and accreditation of content (based on the reputation of the organisations). However, a criticism of the current situation is clear: the number of mass media organisations is small in order to guarantee diversity, and content is often published without much comparison with reality for reasons of immediacy. From a citizen s and user s point of view, the accreditation provided by the mass media is quite relative: there are people who trust certain organisations and not others. This trust is due to the reputation models assigned to specific organisations and people. To overcome Babel, it is therefore necessary to create and maintain systems that can evaluate the reputation of content authors/distributors via decentralised mechanisms that replace the hierarchical mechanisms of the mass media. Given that social reputation and accreditation are also information goods, both can be treated like any other content. Social reputation and accreditation can therefore be created in a decentralised way by the very users/producers/consumers themselves (UPC). In fact, one example of this is the website Slashdot (<http://slashdot.org>), which allows precisely this and has become, for the moment, one of the technological news bulletins (News for Nerds). Its operational principle is very simple: users provide the URL with a news item or content in general and add a comment regarding its interest. Other users also add comments, which often run into the hundreds. Slashdot uses ex post peer reviews to evaluate the credibility or quality of the comments. This method is a variation on the system of scientific publication (peer revision prior to publication), in which the revision is carried out a posteriori. Slashdot does not try to stop irrational or erroneous content from being published but merely compares it with elements that corroborate or refute it. Habitual users accumulate karma points for their good actions (or have points docked for bad actions). Consequently, a reputation mechanism is created, neutrally and automatically, that helps users to weigh up the alternatives in conflictive situations. The result is the ordering of content, i.e. a hierarchy, which has been produced, however, in a decentralised way by the very community of those interested in technological news and content. Research is currently being carried out into more sophisticated reputation models at our Artificial Intelligence Research Institute (IIIA), among others, with the aim of creating far-reaching accreditation platforms. Finally, personalisation is typically a process that relates certain content with the affinity (interests or preferences) of a user. One of the most widely used techniques is collaborative filtering, used for example by Amazon to recommend books, films and, as also done by AppleStore, music. Collaborative filtering makes a prediction regarding the elements that might be most closely related to a person, comparing the elements that are related to other similar people. The way to determine that two people are similar may vary, but essentially the registered behaviour of users is compared (in the case of Amazon or AppleStore, the elements bought by each person). Apart from this technique, there is currently quite a lot of research to develop more closely adjusted recommendation systems. For example, a spin-off company of the IIIA, MyStrands (<http://www.mystrands.com>) develops social recommendation technologies particularly in the world of music. Recommendation and personalisation systems are a new and very active field within artificial intelligence, with the first congress held in 2007, and they are likely to become established in the near future as a technology as ubiquitous as content searches today. Conclusions The processes of decentralisation and automation that act on the discovery, filtering, accrediting and personalisation of content will certainly have consequences we cannot predict, but to end I would like to mention the importance of the phenomenon known as the long tail. This term was coined by Chris Anderson (2006) to argue that, in the new internet cost struc- 13

16 Overcoming Babel: social mediation and intelligent systems E. PLAZA ture, products with few clients or sales, jointly, could achieve a greater market volume than products with more clients or sales. These curves are known in statistics as Pareto tails but are often called 80/20 curves in mail order sales. This means that 20% of the products account for 80% of the sales and the tail is the remaining 80% of the products, which account for 20% of the sales. Current studies show that, on the internet, this curve becomes 72/28, a considerable change in practical terms. So, for example, Amazon can have an extensive catalogue that includes a lot of products with relatively low sales, i.e. niche products, but which, as a whole, generate a large part of its business. This is relevant because the so-called fragmentation of content is a phenomenon that will continue to grow due to the long tail effect: increasingly more content will be created for niches, i.e. for markets that are not mass markets. The mass media is currently changing into a myriad of services and content aimed at medium or small-sized interest groups and this will continue due to the action of new technologies and cost structures. Those with an apocalyptic view may fear Babel but I have attempted to show that there are ideas and techniques that can organise this new internet galaxy in a new, decentralised and social way. However, uses and habits will change and, admittedly, this will lead to anxiety. I personally believe that nostalgia for the time when we used to all watch the same film on a single TV is mistaken. Note 1 For an example of the use of ontology in searches see <http://www.cognition.com>. Bibliography BENKLER, Y. The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom. Yale: Yale University Press, ECO, U. Apocalittici e Integrati. Milan: Bompiani, ANDERSON, C. The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More, New York: Hyperion,

17 ISSN: / QUADERNS DEL CAC Technological convergence: a state of the art on the issue JOSEP RAMON FERRER Director General of Telecommunications Networks and Infrastructures of the Secretariat for Telecommunications and the Information Society Abstract The audiovisual industry is one of the country's major assets. Convergence of networks and terminals and ubiquity of access is leading to an intensive use of audiovisual media in electronic communications, whether in their traditional or new formats. In this regard, next generation networks will generalise high capacity access, leading to new uses and new ways of acting. To bring about this new scenario and to maintain and establish the audiovisual sector we have today, the country must be able to offer it a sufficiently attractive environment in which to experiment with and apply these new uses and then export them elsewhere. There must be new networks if we are to generate markets where these new environments, modes of consumption, options and tools can be tried out. To allow local industry to conceive, experiment with and validate models. This is where governments can also help by carrying out projects that help to consolidate the sector. Key words Technological convergence, telecommunications network, interactivity, IPTV, mobile TV, audiovisual conssumption. Resum La indústria audiovisual és un dels grans actius del país. La convergència de xarxes i terminals i la ubiqüitat en l'accés ens porta a un ús intensiu de l'audiovisual dins de les comunicacions electròniques, tant en els formats tradicionals com en els nous. En aquest sentit, les xarxes de nova generació permetran la generalització dels accessos de gran capacitat, la qual cosa ens durà a nous usos i noves maneres de fer. Per fer realitat aquest nou escenari i mantenir i arrelar el sector audiovisual de què disposem, cal que el nostre país li pfereixi un entorn prou atractiu on experimentar i fer realitat aquests nous usos, i poder-los exportar després arreu. Cal disposar de les noves xarxes per generar mercats on experimentar amb aquests nous entorns, modes de consum, possibilitats i eines. Per permetre a la indústria local concebre, experimentar i validar models. Les administracions poden ajudar fent realitat els projectes que ajudin a consolidar el sector. Paraules clau Convergència tecnològica, xarxes de telecomunicació, interactivitat, IPTV, televisió per mobilitat, consum audiovisual 1. Telecommunications infrastructures: strategies 1.1. The importance of ICTs A country s backbone is provided by its infrastructures: its roads, its railways, its power grids, etc. and also its telecommunications networks. Modern times dictate the use (both quantitative and qualitative) these are put to. Individuals, companies and public administrations are trying to find ways to adapt to a present that is changing so quickly that it almost instantly becomes the past. A revolutionary present in post-modern terms in which concepts like now and then are constantly redefined through binary communication systems. These days no-one would deny that telecommunications as a tool are basic to a country s competitiveness. In fact, the experience of the Nordic countries, leaders in this as in other fields, has demonstrated that there is a clear correlation between investment in education and telecommunications and the rise in a country s competitiveness. 1 This gives new technologies a vital role in the development of modern societies and their competitiveness. As well as being seen as basic infrastructures on a par with electricity, water and gas, they are simultaneously across the board in areas like education and employment relations, and in the increased competitiveness and evolution of a country s production model towards a new model with higher added value Deployment of infrastructures: public intervention required In spite of recognising the importance of these technologies, for the last ten years ICTs 2 have been seen as the preserve of private initiative, resulting in an unequal territorial distribution of opportunities to access these new services. Private initiative has only addressed those areas that offer the best chance of return on investment, that is, with large concentrations of population or high levels of economic activity. This private deployment of infrastructures has therefore left large areas without any electronic communications service cover. (15-22) 15

18 Technological convergence: a state of the art on the issue J.R. FERRER Faced with this situation, it has nonetheless been observed that, in societies seen as benchmarks in the field, it is public administrations that act as their driving force, with policies that foster the creation of infrastructures, services and content and make efficient and effective use of new technologies to improve service to citizens and businesses. There has therefore been a volte face towards making public initiative responsible for creating the conditions to finally put an end to the digital divide between territories. In this respect, different administrations (the European Union and national, regional and local governments) have begun to launch a raft of programmes to bring ICTs into all sectors, and at all levels. Similarly, electronic communications services and others including energy, transport, social and health services make up what are known as the general-interest services, one of the pillars of the European social model. Within the European Union, general-interest services are fundamental in guaranteeing social and territorial cohesion and economic competitiveness. Individuals and companies quite legitimately expect the same access to quality general-interest services at affordable prices throughout the territory. For individuals, such access is an essential part of their standing as European citizens and is necessary for the full enjoyment of their fundamental rights. For companies, the availability of these services is an indispensable prior condition in any business environment that will favour competitiveness. Thus a supply of general-interest services, in particular electronic communications, is an important factor in achieving the Union s strategic objective, proclaimed by the Council of Europe in Lisbon: to become the most dynamic and competitive knowledge-based economy in the world capable of sustainable economic growth with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion. Electronic communications are among the general-interest services that have seen the greatest transformation, and from this privileged position can therefore serve as a model for other services. To ensure that the stated objectives of cohesion and competitiveness are met, general-interest services must be provided subject to certain principles, among which is the key concept of universal telecommunications service, the right of everyone to have access to certain services (basically landline telephone and functional access to the Internet) considered to be essential. Both on its own volition and as an integral part of the European Union, Catalonia shares these objectives of social and territorial cohesion and competitiveness. But the Catalan government s actions go one step further, pressing for universal service to be extended to cover mobile telephone service, broad-band internet and public digital terrestrial television, a wish repeatedly expressed to the European Union and other bodies. The obligation to provide electronic communications services, with their requisites of quality, reliability, safety and consumer and user protection, presupposes appropriate availability of the networks that underpin these services Deployment initiatives of the Catalan government To ensure the availability of telecommunications and infrastructures, the Catalan government is concentrating on two lines. One in the short-term, through the Pla Catalunya Connecta, 3 which in its first phase to 2010 aims to bring at least mobile phone, broadband internet and DTT television access to centres of population in Catalonia with over 50 inhabitants. A second line that is being worked on in the mid and long term is to incentivise the introduction of next generation - essentially fibre optic networks to provide the bandwidth required for future electronic communications. But the deployment of infrastructures is not an end in itself. It could even be referred to as a necessary evil, in the same way as knowledge is not just an accumulation of data but what we do with it. The Catalan government s goal is to lay the foundations that will support the size and diversity of content required by society and the new business models. These structures are the scaffolding that must sustain the flow of information, which is after all the raison d être of the Knowledge Society and the so-called New Economy that we wish to achieve. In other words, the infrastructures sole aim is to allow individuals, governments and companies to benefit from electronic communications services at all times. Irrespective of whether these infrastructures are deployed by public or private bodies and of the services they may support, it is increasingly clear that there is an inexorable trend towards technological convergence, both in networks and in services and terminals. 2. Technological convergence 2.1. Background What we call technological convergence is the result of combining data transport networks with the digitalisation of their content. This will only affect the market when the networks have sufficient capacity and their content is completely digital. If one of these factors is missing, then its affect on the market is much less. These days, any home has several electronic communication networks. Radio arrives via its receiver antenna (or the domestic installation); television (analogue or digital) arrives via radio frequency (through the television aerial) or by cable via a telecommunications operator; telephone by copper cable via a telecommunications operator, and internet access via the same copper cable (if ADSL) or the coaxial cable of the operator in question. This setup is already changing. The new electronic communication networks are integrating services previously carried on different networks, converging them into one. Our homes will increasingly have just one inlet for one telecommunications operator, who will supply telephone, internet access, radio and 16

19 J.R. FERRER Technological convergence: a state of the art on the issue television services (and at a quality far superior to present standards, with new and improved services). For historical reasons, television will probably follow one of two paths in Spain. Given the extensive deployment of aerials and cover throughout the country, much greater than for other electronic communication services, it seems unlikely that cable access technologies will overtake traditional radio frequency channels, at least in the short term. Indeed, the fact that the public administrations and radio broadcasters have both opted for digital terrestrial television (DTT) clearly indicates that radio frequency broadcasting technology (digital, of course) has by no means reached the end of its life cycle. However, it will soon have to start to compete with other broadcasting channels, which will come in gradually and slowly begin to gain ground. In any case, this change affects the whole value chain of what until recently were separate markets. Content distribution networks are changing, as are players and access points; even agents who up to now were providing content and the means for its consumption. However, an analysis of these changes is beyond the scope of this article, which will be limited to providing a more technical explanation, without entering into market research or reconfiguring the value chain. Because this change is caused by a technological change, the new environment must be understood before we examine its consequences. This technological change is what is known as technological convergence, the convergence of networks, accesses and devices. Technological convergence arises from the digitalisation of information and its transmission. As soon as information has been digitised it can be transferred much more efficiently in information packages (known as IP technologies), the origin of the internet. In fact, the IP effect is one of the major revolutions in this market. IP technology is not new, but it is only now, when network speed has evolved sufficiently to allow its capacities to be exploited, that we are able to digitise images and videos with high enough quality and efficiency. To make this change, both processes have had to coincide and mature for all their potential to be usable. Today, both conditions for initiating these changes are in place. Although DTT can provide limited interactivity, only after it has been combined with a return channel following technological convergence can its new capacities be exploited. However, the increase in quality and capacity of the channels broadcast and the large installed base of reception systems give it significant margin for growth. Conversely, the case of DAB ( digital audio broadcasting or digital radio) is an example of improved quality that has not taken off in our market although it has penetrated other markets because formulae have been found to make users listen to digital radio in DAB format. In any case, the future of radio lies in digitalisation, although it has hung on to its existing technology pending a jump to other technologies or a development in this technology (for example, direct streaming by wireless IP technologies). In spite of this, listeners can currently enjoy a good range of digital radio broadcasters on DTT Digitising content Digitising content has been discussed since the 1990s. It was the first step towards what today has become consolidated in most productions for the general public. Recordings are now made using digital technology and can be easily transmitted via large-capacity networks. Until recently this was the extent of debates by technology gurus. But today, when new networks have started to distribute such content and it is reaching consumers, and advanced consumers are already well versed in the use of new technologies, a new crisis is appearing in digital content, specifically concerning the formats in which this is distributed. Everyone assumes that content must be digitised for its transfer and consumption, and so the debate is focussing on formats: people now want to interact with content, not just be passive consumers. So the debate has moved on to the consumption of content, how and where it is consumed and in which device, since these issues affect its creation, consumption and method of distribution. Here it is worth taking a look at the first initiatives launched in different markets. For example, the series 24: Conspiracy, adapted for mobile phone consumption (24 one-minute mobisodes, Vodafone & Fox Entertainment Group, 2004). (Other examples of mobisodes are Lost, Prison Break and Doctor Who, or cases like When Evil Calls, with 20 mobisodes of approximately 2 minutes, accessible on O2, T-Mobile and Orange as well as YouTube and MySpace). This case study 4 shows that not only are adaptations required in production (to adapt it to terminal screens, creation of close-ups instead of wide shots, direct, clear dialogues, etc.), but also in pace (short episodes, for easier downloading, with fast action but incorporating images based on clear fixed shots etc.). Another aspect is television on mobile phones, for example DVB-H, which uses content already created for other broadcasting channels, less concerned with impact on production than on new consumption habits. Furthermore, the consumer is no longer a passive link in the chain and now wants to decide what to view and when to view it. And not only with à la carte content but also the place and the device. The need, already expressed by spectators, to interact with content must be borne in mind. Now people don t want to be a mere spectator, a figure waiting for the distributor to give them what they want (although this does not mean that this facility will disappear). This is a new actor, not just a spectator wanting to interact. The first examples of this phenomenon have been via decoders, by means of the telephone line, but uncertainty about the economic cost made most users disconnect the line from the decoder. However, the success of SMS messages as a return channel (and the business generated) has created new expectations and 17

20 Technological convergence: a state of the art on the issue J.R. FERRER new promises still to be met. In addition, now that the market has changed and flat rates and permanent internet connection have become the norm throughout the country, new initiatives may appear in order to take advantage of these changes (now that flat rates no longer attract the suspicion mentioned above). So new uses of the internet also influence audiovisual consumption. Young people (the Cut & Paste or Google Generation, as they are known) prefer interactive systems, turning their backs on the passive consumption of information. According to a report by University College London 5 on the use of networks among young people, they prefer visual to textual information. However, an interesting debate has arisen on the impact of the internet on reading and whether it is affecting the ability to concentrate. In particular, the article by Nicholas G. Carr 6 Is Google Making Us Stupid?: What the internet is doing to our brains, published in the magazine The Atlantic Monthly 7 July/August 2008, has created a debate on the blogosphere that has even reached scientific journals like Edge.org. Specifically, the question raised is whether new habits of searching for information are affecting out ability for deep concentration. Putting to one side the negative posture of Carr, the debate has gone beyond this and is now analysing how searching for information is evolving. 8 Although the appearance of the calculator affected most people s ability to do arithmetical calculations, new abilities with search engines seem to affect both memory (why retain information if you know where to find it if you need it?) and consumption of information (the UCL study analyses user behaviour on two research websites one of the British Library, and the other of the Joint Information Systems Committee- and it concludes that users of research! were glancing at information and jumping to the next item, instead of studying it properly). This change in habits is also affecting the audiovisual field, where products must be lively to attract and retain the spectator. And of course, advertising, which has to find new ways to keep its target s attention Next generation or convergent networks New commercial offers currently entering the market are considerably increasing the access speed of electronic communication networks. These offers are the result of operators efforts to renew network technology, efforts that were previously internal to the network and are now reaching users. The renewal of network architectures must allow for: Network convergence Greater efficiency in network management, operation and maintenance (cost savings for operators) New capacities for users The new capacities The new networks have great capacities for data access and are seen as the natural evolution of ADSL, but they also include other tools like facilities to offer services managed by others or symmetrical speeds for uploading and downloading information. One of the biggest limitations affecting current commercial DSL technology available in our market (apart from access speed) is that information can be downloaded from the internet at 6, 10, 20 or 30 Mbps, but the speed is much slower when uploading the user s information onto the internet. This is not so in other markets, which have DSL technologies with symmetrical up- and downloading speeds (it was the operators market decision to introduce unsymmetrical access speeds). The new networks are expected to improve speeds and to increase symmetrical connections for uploading and downloading information on the internet. Although up to now most users have used the internet to download information, the new applications, where the user is the active party in the communication (Web 2.0 applications, including social networks, user publications or collaborative work) now require the user to be able to supply information to the network and not just obtain it. This is an important change in use in the domestic area, while in the business area (above all concerning collaborative work) this was already happening. At first, when modem connections were being used and speeds of 256 Kbps being reached, it was said that ADSL did not have much of a market, because only a small part of the market was prepared to pay more to take advantage of increased speed and quality. These days, curiously, the same arguments are being made, but the technologies referred to are xdsl and FTTH. If we compare what we were paying for 256 Kbps access a few years ago with what we pay today for 3 Mbps access, we can see (after updating for inflation and flat rates), that the cost is equivalent. It is to be hoped that, although offers with the greatest capacity target businesses and advanced users first, there is an adoption curve similar to that of ADSL, and the price will then quickly even out. The basic connection, which today might be 3 Mbps, is expected to be updated and to increase to 10 or 50 Mbps. This will give enough domestic connectivity for high capacity broadcasting/reception of video and audio, which could bring a real change of scenario. Together with flat rates (the always on option), this is expected to influence consumption habits and to make multimedia on IP and Web 2.0 applications the norm Convergence in fixed and mobile networks One important aspect of convergence is the cost savings it represents for operators. Even allowing for investment to modernise equipment and the core network, it has been calculated that cost savings in operation and maintenance could amount to between 70 and 80%. 9 This technological change also lets operators manage both fixed and mobile networks, and so we may soon start to see commercial deals combining the two technologies, or services exploiting the resources of both networks. Vodaphone s takeover of Tele2/Comunitel is already moving the market in this direction. Another factor is that mobile data services increase the 18

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